Could a movie help broker peace in the Middle East? The documentary "Budrus," the winner of this year's 2012 PUMA.Creative Impact Award, illustrates how non-violent resistance and cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians could help stop the bloodshed the war-torn region.
Named for, and set in, a Palestinian village, it chronicles peaceful protests against the building of an Israeli West Bank barrier.
Metro spoke to the film's director, Julia Bacha, best known for the doc "Control Room," about how she brought a different angle to a well-worn conflict, and how being a woman filmmaker has helped her work in the Middle East.
How did you come up with the idea for this film?
I've been working for the last eight years for an organization called Just Vision, and we wanted to tell a story that would break through some of the stereotypes that have been going on the last 60 years about what's going on in Israel and Palestine. Overwhelmingly, we hear stories about violence and about political negotiations that fail, but we don't hear about the non-violent resistance that has been going on in the ground. And we found that the village of Budrus really had so many elements that we feel are essential for moving this issue forward.
The village had a non-violent resistant campaign that was successful because it united all political parties because women were in the leadership and because it had Israeli activists coming in to struggle together, understanding that peace, security and dignity have to come to both sides at the same time. We really felt that story could break through some of the barriers that people put on when they start talking about Israel and Palestine. We've been able to reach unlikely audiences with the film.
Israel and Palestine have been covered so much in the media. What do you think it is that "Budrus" brought that was different to what people have already read or seen?
Most of the time when a regular person opens their paper in the morning, what they will see is either a picture of a violent event in Gaza these days or some actions at the borders. But we've seen neighborhoods in Jerusalem and in the West Bank where Jews and Palestinians are struggling together using non-violence, but you very rarely see those stories in the mainstream media. The world had been starving for a story like that.
A lot of times when the U.S. and the rest of the world hears stories about Arab or Muslim nations, it's always about how women are powerless and they don't have a say in the movement. But this film really shows that women can make a difference. Was that part of your agenda?
To be honest, that wasn't a sort of preconceived plan. It was really because the story was so clearly the result of the involvement of women that it because a natural part of the story. We were of course delighted that that was the case, but it wasn't like we went in looking for that. It really is that it just jumped out.
The 15-year-old, Iltezam Morrar, was the daughter of the leader of the village. She was the first person in the entire community who was able to break through the barrier of Israeli soldiers and to put her body in front of the bulldozer that was going to uproot the olive trees. In that moment, the bulldozer turned away.
It was that instance that galvanized the entire community, and the fact that it was a woman that had created that instance basically set in stone that women are there to stay and that women are there to stay in the leadership.
I know this completely different, but the first woman who won an Academy Award did it for a war conflict film. Now we're seeing more and more documentaries touching on traditionally what people think assume are "male" subjects. Why do you think women are able to tell these stories better than men?
It's not necessarily that we tell the story better. I think we tell a broader and different side of the story often. I think we bring — sometimes, not always — a more compassionate look at those issues. I think compassion is a very powerful element of storytelling, and I think that resonates with audiences.
I personally have found from being a woman working in the region is that you can often times ironically capitalize on prejudices against women. People will often times do not expect that you are actually making that film so they feel less threatened by the camera. They're more willing to bring you their homes. Women are more easily incorporated into families, because it's harder for a man to be present in more intimate moments in the kitchen or in the bedrooms or for the women to talk more openly about wanting to go out with the man, why this is important for them and why they want to take leadership in their community. There is a more ease of access being a woman.